The Women Innovators of Walmart

Women of WMW

Meet some of the people behind new ideas, products and processes keeping us at the top of our retail game.

We’ve all heard the word “innovation” before. But here’s what makes innovation so important at Walmart: Those new ideas, products and processes — also called intellectual property (or IP) — help us find new ways to care for associates and customers and move us forward.

Did you know there’s a day devoted to new ideas and creative thinking? World IP Day is every April 26. It celebrates the contributions made by creators and innovators and raises awareness about how patents, trademarks and designs affect our daily lives.

The 2023 IP Day theme is “Women and IP: Accelerating Innovation and Creativity.” So, we talked to a few of the women at Walmart who hold patents for their innovative ideas. We asked them about their innovations and what makes their jobs special.

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Cristy Brooks, Senior Director, Associate Experience Product
Issued patents: 28
Pending patents: 21

Cristy (pictured above) has been with Walmart for 36 years, starting as a store associate then moving through a variety of roles, including in real estate and supply chain. Her innovation work started with trying to solve an inventory problem in stores.

“Once you begin to dissect things and start asking questions, you get lots of different root causes,” she explains. “I use the phrase a lot, ‘If it was easy, somebody's already done it.’ It's not glamorous work. You have to have an affinity for the details and you have to be willing to ask why.”

Cristy says her work revolves around supporting the 1.3 million associates that keep Walmart running at the store level. Some of her patents involve automation of on-hand inventory management, which led to In-Stock Assistant, a tool many associates currently use. The tool is fueled by active and passive signals, sent by associates and technology. It has migrated from rules engines, to Machine Learning, and now Artificial Intelligence.

“My job is to make their job easier,” Cristy says. “And, by the way, the feedback or the idea spark usually comes from them.”

Looking forward, Cristy predicts that her next five years of work will probably be the most impactful of her career. Why? Because Walmart is doing a review of its business to find ways to automate tasks that will free up associates to make the best use of their time — to connect with customers, for example.

“When I think about the reason for developing all these smart things, it’s to be able to automate things that are repetitious, that are no fun, so we can have a customer-facing associate that's very knowledgeable and engaged,” Cristy says.

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Kamiya Motwani, Director of Data Science on the Personalization Team, Walmart India Development Center (IDC)

Issued patents: 3

Pending patents: 9

Kamiya (pictured above) has been with Walmart for seven years, starting out in the California office before moving to India in 2019. She is one of the inventors of the Smart Substitution process, which powers substitution decisions on pickup orders when requested items are missing. 

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“We created a system that can actually identify the best personalized substitute for users,” Kamiya explains. “Now associates don't have to make any manual decisions for pickup order substitutions, because we replaced those missing items using this large, automated AI system,” Kamiya says. Several of her patents are related to the system, offering different takes on solutions to the substitution issue.

Kamiya says she loves knowing that her work impacts customers on a large scale — it even impacts her own shopping experience! She also enjoys having the freedom to explore ideas that will make a difference.

“It's like working with the freedom of, let's say, a startup, but still in the umbrella of a large company that is willing to try out these cutting-edge ideas,” she explains.

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Priyanka Paliwal, Senior Engineering Manager II for Sam’s Club

Issued patents: 2

Pending patents: 2

Priyanka (pictured above) has been with Walmart since August 2018. One of her patents is for “next-generation computer vision technology.” Because this new tech hasn’t been rolled out yet, she couldn’t reveal too much. (Talk about cutting-edge!) But she did say that it “relates to making customers’ shopping experiences at Walmart frictionless and fully personalized.”

She says she loves not only the opportunity to innovate, but also the people-focused culture at Walmart, which she calls the “secret sauce” behind the company’s ability to deliver good shopping experiences for its customers.

“I love that I get to make an impact at scale,” Priyanka shares. “I like to see people's faces light up and say, ‘Oh, everything is so easy.’ Millions of people use Scan & Go every day. And the fact that I get to work with colleagues who not only raise the bar in technology and innovation, but also in supporting and uplifting each other.”

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Amy Savaiinaea, Senior Director for Sourcing & Procurement for Walmart Transportation

Issued patents: 1

Pending patents: 4

As proof of how long it can take patents to get approved, Amy (pictured above) has been away from the patent-writing process for four or five years, but one of the patents she worked on was just approved.

Amy, who has been with Walmart since January 2006, says she worked on patents for a mobile assembly station that would help associates assemble products like bicycles and grills, and for processes to improve the efficiency of the sorting machines that take products off trucks at distribution centers. The patent that was approved was more theoretical, she says, describing a process where artificial intelligence could suggest what tasks should be assigned to associates.

In addition to her one issued patent and four pending patent applications, Amy has another 12 historical patent matters (patents that are expired or were never approved) including her as an inventor.

An idea about improving even the tiniest detail of an associate’s or customer’s experience can be the kernel that sprouts into an innovation. These women gave us a peek into how — with teamwork, attention to detail and a whole lot of patience — a new patent can change the way we work for the better. 

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Wei Shen, Senior Director II, Data Science at Walmart Global Tech 

Issued patents: 13

Pending patents: 9

Wei (pictured above) is an 11-year associate with Walmart who has a passion for data and solving the unsolvable. That passion has paid off in … patents: This data scientist currently holds a whopping 13 patents!

She’s has had many roles in her career, but one thing remains constant for Wei: her love for thinking outside the box and building solutions that drive business results. In her words, “the scope and scale of the problems to solve keeps me excited and focused on inventing solutions that let us understand products better and enhance the customer and member experience.”

But it’s not just the impressive data sets that keep Wei plugging away. It’s also the culture of innovation and invention at Walmart. “Leaders constantly motivate us and find creative ways to spark innovation. We are challenged daily and given the freedom to explore and try new things,” Wei says.

There’s also Walmart’s patent program, which helps associates bring their ideas to reality through the patent filing process.

“I love that my patents have been game changers for the business. Seeing them used as a core component for what we do today brings real joy.”